Friday Finds: A Young Soldier on the Front and a Old Jester in the Palace

Hoopoe Fiction has posted the first few chapters of Youssef Fadel’s A Beautiful White Cat Walks With Me, translated by Alexander Elinson:

catYou can read nearly the first three chapters of A Beautiful White Cat, although Hoopoe cuts off the reader abruptly in the third, mid-sentence, clapping the book shut.

The first three chapters shift between a twenty-seven-year-old comedy writer who’s been suddenly drafted into the country’s war in the Western Sahara and the sixty-year-old father, a jester in the royal palace. The son is in a bar, hoping he will soon be furloughed to see his wife. The father is at the palace. Both are struggling, in different ways, to say alive.

The beginning action unfolds with grim, absurdist humor — that’s often a description of humor, a watching-of-humor, rather than the thing itself.

From the opening of the second chapter:

Yes, I’m a jester. It flls me with pride to hear people gufawing, torrents of laughter crashing down everywhere, clusters of joy hanging all around me, happiness swimming in the air, and the wings of intoxication fluttering. A hurricane that flls veins, eyes, and mouths. It squeezes one man’s midsection, his cheeks reddening and the blood almost bursting from his pores. He looks as if he’s about to explode. It is truly something strange to watch a group of people laugh. Their bodies seem oblivious to anyone watching. When they laugh, people turn into something else entirely. How interesting it is to make people feel happy and unrestrained when they’re together—usually with simple words that wouldn’t make someone laugh were you to say them to him on his own. But when they’re together, their masks fall, to the point that you don’t recognize them anymore. This one produces a sound resembling a horse’s whinny. That one reminds you of a donkey’s bray. Then there’s the laugh that resembles a dog’s howl or a saw working its way through a piece of wood. A strange carnival of sounds, from the clucking of a chicken to the cackle of a hyena, and every form of laughter strives to outdo the others.

And from Hoopoe’s description of the novel:

Hassan makes a living in his native Marrakesh as a comic writer and performer, through his satirical sketches critical of Morocco’s rulers. Yet when he is suddenly conscripted into a losing war in the Sahara, and drafted to a far-flung desert outpost, it seems that all is lost.

Could his estranged father, close to power as the king’s private jester, have something to do with his sudden removal from the city? And will he ever see his beloved wife Zinab again?

With flowing prose and black humor, Youssef Fadel subtly tells the story of 1980s Morocco.

You can read the whole excerpt at Hoopoe’s website.